Patti Smith

Greatly Appreciated

Patti Smith  (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.  Called the “punk poet laureate”, Smith fused rock and poetry in her work.  Smith’s most widely known song is “Because the Night”, which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978.  In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  On November 17, 2010, she won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids.  She is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.  (More from Wikipedia)
As it turned out, three competing and complementary strains of music arose seemingly overnight by 1974:  In addition to power pop, they were what most of us know as “punk rock” – e.g., RamonesSex PistolsPatti Smith Group (with Lenny Kaye on lead guitar), Dead Boys – and “new wave” – e.g., Elvis Costello, BlondieTalking Heads, the Runaways – the latter band, the first successful all-female rock band, is now the subject of a major motion picture. 
(April 2010)
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Lenny Kaye, who would later be the guitarist for Patti Smith Group, helped put the album together and wrote the liner notes for Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 that are almost as well known as the album itself.  Patti Smith has been more or less a recluse all of her professional life – the whole time I was in NY, her only performance was a poetry reading that I passed on – but she has been getting a little more prominence lately, I am delighted to see:  She interviewed Johnny Depp in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine and has an acclaimed memoir out now called Just Kids, about her life with her late roommate, the brilliant and notorious photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  
(January 2011)
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Sam Ugly (who was only 16) and Tony Torcher had played together in a Anglophile band called the Markeys that played a lot of early Stones, Yardbirds, AnimalsKinks, and Who songs.  After they heard the first Ramones album, and after several of the early punkers came through town – Patti SmithTalking Heads, and Iggy Pop – a new direction was clear; and the band brought in lead singer Mike Nightmare and his brother Raymi Gutter (when original Markeys guitarist Brian Vadders wouldn’t cut his hair) – good thing, too, because it is Gutter’s guitar that really stands out here.  The band started out with the name Rotten and changed it to the Ugly when they heard about Johnny Rotten.  
  (November 2011)
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American teenagers (mostly white suburban kids) were also invigorated by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all the rest; and they responded by launching a counter-assault, when seemingly every kid in America wanted to be in a band.  This era is now known as the garage rock era (that was the most available practice space for most of these would-be rock stars, hence the name); this time period also saw the beginnings of the psychedelic rock movement on both sides of the Atlantic.  I didn’t know exactly what I was hearing at the time, but the music by bands like the SeedsBlues Magoosthe Electric Prunes, Question Mark and the Mysteriansthe StandellsCount Five, and Strawberry Alarm Clock (among many other bands) was grabbing me almost immediately.  I don’t know that I even realized immediately how bizarre many of these American band names were, as compared to those of British Invasion bands like the AnimalsFreddie and the Dreamers, and the Dave Clark Five
Thankfully, in 1972 (though if I’m not mistaken, the album was actually not released in the US until 1976), Lenny Kaye – later the guitarist for the seminal Patti Smith Group – helped assemble hit songs by all of these diverse bands plus plenty more into what is now regarded as one of the greatest compilation albums of all times:  Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.  It remains one of my favorite records, and I have spoken of it several times before in these posts. 
(January 2013)
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The frontwoman for Fur is Holly Ramos, a musician and actress from New York City.  As revealed in a 2003 interview with Glitzine – a glam/punk/pop online fanzine that has evidently been around for 40 years – Ramos was into the New York punk scene at an early age:  “In grade school I started to get interested in 1977 type punkthe RamonesBlondiePatti Smith.  And in high school I got into hardcore (Black Flag/Bad Brains, etc).  I am interviewed for the book American Hardcore, a book about the history of that music.”  The book was written by Steven Blush and was the basis for an acclaimed 2006 documentary by the same name, American Hardcore that was directed by Paul Rachman


(June 2013/2)

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Years ago, I heard that there was an unwritten rule among disc jockeys (maybe not unwritten in some places) that you were not supposed to play two songs with female singers one after another, under the theory that listeners wouldn’t be able to tell the songs apart.  I cannot imagine that this has ever really been true, but it certainly wasn’t the case by the punk rock/new wave era:  Picking artists almost at random, would anyone really have trouble distinguishing BlondiePat BenatarPatti Smith, and Pretenders


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John Cale has also had an important impact on music following his time with the Velvet Underground, though mostly behind the scenes.  Cale produced the first album by Patti Smith GroupHorses (1975), which had the kind of impact on the rock music scene that The Velvet Underground & Nico should have had.  


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I saw the above album by Angie PepperIt’s Just that I Miss You (2001) that was advertised in the Bomp! Mailorder service as recommended for Blondie and Patti Smith fans, so I immediately ordered it.  


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Opposition to the unfair imprisonment of two women in Pussy Riot became a cause célèbre of many Western celebrities plus musicians from every genre imaginable:  Bryan AdamsBeastie Boysthe Black Keys, John CalePeter GabrielGreen Day, Nina Hagen, Kathleen Hanna, Paul McCartneyMobyYoko OnoPet Shop BoysRed Hot Chili Peppers, Patti SmithStingPete Townshend, etc.  Pussy Riot was featured on 60 Minutes as well. 


For their part, the bandmembers in Pussy Riot that were not in prison distanced themselves from all of this attention and were quoted as saying:  “We’re flattered, of course, that Madonna and Björk have offered to perform with us.  But the only performances we’ll participate in are illegal ones.  We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets.” 


(December 2013)


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Mark Jenkins with the Washington Post has written of this album:  “If some CBGB’s Frankenstein had managed, circa 1977, to transplant Patti Smith’s sensibility into Blondie’s garage-band pop, the result would have sounded something like BoySkout’s School of Etiquette.  Outfitted in such New Wavey accessories as sneakers and skinny ties, this lesbian-rock quartet revives such Smithian motifs as drowning and the erotic appeal of outlaws, but with girl-group bounce.  School of Etiquette may not be genteel, but it is impeccably arranged.” 


(January 2014)


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     So you want to be a rock ’n’ roll star

     Then listen now to what I say

     Just get an electric guitar

     And take some time and learn how to play

     And when your hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight

     It’s gonna be all right 


So said the Byrds – specifically songwriters Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman – back in 1967, and the formula still works pretty well to this day.  The song has been covered many times since, often with altered lyrics, with the version of “So You Want to be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star” by Patti Smith Group in 1979 being perhaps the best known cover.  


(April 2014) 


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The Wikipedia article on Slow Train Coming also states (with no footnotes), in apparent violation of their NPOV (neutral point of view) policy:  “In a year when Van Morrison and Patti Smith released their own spiritual works in Into the Music and Wave, respectively, [Bob] Dylan’s album seemed vitriolic and bitter in comparison.”  Neither album is particularly Christian, from what I can tell; the title track of the Patti Smith album “Wave” is dedicated to the nearly forgotten Pope John Paul Ibut evidently only because it was recorded during his brief papacy.  Also, Patti Smith’s previous album Easteras might be expected from the title, has more Christian imagery; and Smith opened her acclaimed debut album Horses with a spoken-word introduction that could easily be described as “vitriolic and bitter”:  “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” 


(August 2014)


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I once wrote about Patti Smith in another connection that she “sounds like nothing so much as the Beat poets of the 1950’s”.  Despite their groundbreaking sound, Annie Lennox’s vocals for Eurythmics – who came onto the music scene at about the same time as Black Russian – sounded like a 1940’s chanteuse to me.  Similarly, Black Russian is a startling album from the very beginning of the lively decade of the 1980’s whose source is from a decade or two earlier.  In 2015, the album is not a bit passé but still sounds as fresh as it must have the day it was released; today, the album gives the listener a double dose of looking back. 


(April 2015/1)


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In seemingly no time, the music scene was crowded with top bands and artists whose work has held up well over the decades since, among them Patti Smith Group (whose debut album, Horses came out before Ramones, in December 1975), Television, Richard Hell, the Heartbreakers (the punk band not Tom Petty’s group, though he was a part of the scene as well), Talking Heads, the Dead Boys, Blondie, the Clashthe Cars, Elvis Costello, Pat Benatar, Joy Division, the Specials, the Go-Go’s, the Policeetc., etc., etc. There were so many that rock critics and others began distinguishing bands in the safety-pin set as “punk” and others that were less confrontational as “new wave”.  
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The Wikipedia article on the album starts out this way: “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 is a groundbreaking compilation album of American psychedelic and garage rock singles released in the mid-to-late 1960s. It was assembled by Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, and Lenny Kayelater lead guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. The original double album was released on LP by Elektra in 1972 with liner notes by Kaye that contained one of the first uses of the term ‘punk rock’. It was reissued with a new cover design by Sire Records in 1976 and expanded into a four-CD box set by Rhino Records in 1998.”  
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The Stooges’ debut album, The Stooges came out at the same time as MC5’s Kick out the Jams; it features their classic song “I Wanna be Your Dog”. The producer was John Cale of the Velvet Underground, who later produced the classic 1975 album Horses by Patti Smith Group, and also several songs by another proto-punk band, the Modern Lovers.
(December 2016)
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Yet another SS-20 song, “Still I’m Sad” (the Yardbirds song) is on a split 45 that was given away by an Italian magazine called Lost Trails, with the other side being a live performance of the Patti Smith Group song “Dancing Barefoot” by the Australian punk rock band Celibate Rifles.  Discogs has several more of these free 45’s listed that feature other bands from the Bomp! Records roster, such as past UARB the Tell-Tale Hearts, Gravedigger Vthe Fuzztonesthe Steppes, and the Miracle Workers
(December 2017)
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Since I am down to a quarterly schedule rather than a monthly schedule, my annual list is a lot shorter, so I will try listing all of the people that I have discussed in some depth rather than just the Under Appreciated Rock Band and the Story of the Month. They are all punk rock bands of one kind or another this year (2015-2016), and the most recent post includes my overview of the early rap/hip hop scene that an old friend, George Konstantinow challenged me to write – probably so long ago that he might have forgotten.
(Year 7 Review)
Last edited: March 22, 2021